CNN plans nothing drastic to stem ratings drop


CNN executives on Tuesday said they had no imminent plans to change the network’s prime-time lineup, despite a steep fall-off in viewership but suggested they are stepping up efforts to boost the performance of the current slate of shows.

“We always look to make change throughout CNN, we always have, across all of our businesses. As far as any specific plans to make any specific changes in prime time, no,” said CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton on Tuesday morning after the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers. “Because there can be changes within what we’re doing. A lot of it is in execution.”

This year, CNN has seen a 41% drop in its weekday prime-time ratings compared with the same point in 2009, drawing an average of 727,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. MSNBC has fallen off 24%, to 864,000 viewers, while Fox News is up 3% to 2.7 million.

CNN’s fall-off has triggered suggestions from outsiders urging the network to reinvent its approach.

Network officials argue that the ratings decline reflects a natural ebbing of interest compared to fascination surrounding President Obama’s first months in office at this time last year. Walton also noted that prime time on CNN’s U.S. network contributes only about 10% of the overall advertising revenue of the company, which also includes CNN International, and HLN.

“It’s not as dire as maybe some people say,” Walton said, adding, “I’m not satisfied with the ratings, but I’m not concerned.”

CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein said separately that while he believes the prime-time shows can do a better job of engaging viewers, he is happy with their quality.

“We’re never going to do the obvious, easy thing to boost the number if it reduces the quality of the editorial product,” he said.

Throughout the two-hour presentation to advertisers, executives sought to steer the focus away from prime time and onto the network’s journalism. But officials also used the event to push back against a spate of negative stories about its ratings performance, saying the full story about the network’s reach is not being told.

“We’re the only credible nonpartisan voice left, and that matters,” Walton said on stage.